The Joy of 6's Appeal
Posted on: 21st Nov 2012
The Mazda 6 hasn't had the easiest ride. The first generation car drove brilliantly but felt a bit lightweight and the diesel engines were plagued with reliability issues. The second generation model was an improvement in virtually every regard but seemed to lack its predecessor's personality and fun factor.
Now we have a third generation Mazda 6 and it looks to bring back the driving enjoyment while coupling it with much improved quality and a more stylish and distinctive look.
That's quite an aspiration, but the Mazda 6 needs all of that in spades in order to stand out in a very tough part of the market. Not only does it need to put a lick on the likes of Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Toyota, it also needs to be sufficiently desirable to stop customers migrating up to the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Now you appreciate the scale of the task.
The line-up of SKYACTIV powerplants includes two petrol engines making their debut in the Mazda 6 and two diesels. Most are available with i-ELOOP, Mazda's brake energy regeneration system, as well as i-stop, an advanced idle-stop system. The petrol engines comprise 145 and 165PS versions of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder direct injection unit, with the 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engine available in either 150 or 175PS versions. All versions are front-wheel drive, feature 62-litre fuel tanks, and are mated to six-speed manual gearboxes as standard with a six-speed auto as an option.
The chassis that underpins the Mazda 6 is a development of that which first debuted on the CX-5 SUV. It's been lengthened for this application and optimised for the lower and lighter car. Keeping weight out of key components has been one of the major design priorities and the Mk3 Mazda 6 gets lighter yet stiffer front and rear suspension systems. The brakes have been beefed up, helped by increased chassis stability, a shorter brake pedal stroke and better brake disc cooling.
The electric power assisted steering is quicker than the many of the rather flabby-feeling installations on most family cars, with a rapid 2.57 turn lock-to-lock ratio. In short, the Japanese engineers have done their best to bring the alertness of the first Mazda 6 back to this bigger third generation car.
Design and Build
I make no apology for quoting directly from Mazda's press material here because..... well, you'll see. "Saloon or estate, the new Mazda 6 is the purest adaptation yet of the 'KODO - Soul of Motion' design theme, which was inspired by the movements of animals in the wild and symbolises Mazda's distinctive vitality and agility." Now, I'm looking at the Mazda 6 right now and to me it doesn't look like a bounding cheetah or a swooping peregrine. Or even a roosting nuthatch.
It looks like a family car. A good looking one albeit, with the front end boasting a bolder interpretation of the Mazda family face, sweeping front wheel arches and a rear-set cabin with the windscreen pillars moved back 100mm when compared to the outgoing car. It all makes it look, I concede, a bit more muscular and athletic. The headlights incorporate LEDs and a halo ring light, which draws the eye onto that flamboyant wheel arch feature.
The interior has improved in look and feel as well, although perhaps not quite in lockstep with the bold exterior. The layout is clean with soft touch materials nicely complemented by aluminium-effect highlights. The seats are lightweight but supportive and there's decent space inside, despite that coupe-like glasshouse profile. With a wheelbase fully 105mm longer than the outgoing model's, coupled with wider cabin, the car feels airier. If you want more space, try the estate, which features a boot capacity of 522-litres with the seats up and 1664-litres with the seats down. That's right on terms with the seriously sizeable Mondeo and Passat wagons.
Market and Model
Pricing sits mainly in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket common to most Mondeo-class models. As for value, well, the Mazda 6 already had a reputation as one of the best equipped mid-rangers you could buy, so this latest car has some pressure to perform. Even the entry-level car gets 17-inch alloy wheels, power-operated and heated door mirrors with integrated light, cruise control, air conditioning and leathery bits for the steering wheel, handbrake and gear lever.
There's also a 5.8-inch colour touch screen that looks after an FM/AM radio and CD player that features an auxiliary jack, USB and iPod connectivity. There's only four speakers at base level, but you do also get integrated Bluetooth. Sat nav is optional. Of course, if you step up the range a bit, you get all those 'nice to haves' like dusk sensing lights, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, a six-speaker stereo and dual-zone air conditioning.
Safety is taken very seriously, with the entry-level car getting DSC stability control with traction control. There's also a tyre pressure monitoring system, hill hold assist, twin front, side and full length curtain airbags, with ISOFIX child seat fixings on the outer two rear seats. The top SE-L model also gets Smart City Brake Support which uses a laser mounted at the top of the windscreen to detect an impending low speed collision and then applies the brakes accordingly.
Cost of Ownership
You know the script by now. The Mazda 6 is not only bigger and quicker than its predecessor but its lighter and emits less carbon dioxide and gets better fuel economy. That's progress and it's a template that virtually every new car follows. Yes, you do have to make sacrifices in order to get that economy. Electric power steering isn't as much fun as an old hydraulic pump setup and even the best start/stop systems can be a little annoying when you're trying to do a three-point turn in the road. Overall though, the balance is squarely in the modern owner's favour.
Some numbers? The 145PS petrol model manages a creditable combined cycle 51.4mpg and the high power 165PS version isn't that far off the pace at 47.9mpg. That is coincidentally the same fuel return you'd get in a 145PS auto. Go for a diesel and the figures are intriguing. Whether you opt for the 150 or 175PS car with an auto 'box, you get the same 58.9mpg combined figure. Choose manual transmissions and the 150PS model gets 68.9mpg, while the 175PS version nets 62.8mpg, so you're comparatively harshly penalised by going for a 150PS diesel. Emissions open at just 108g/km for a diesel and 129g/km for a petrol version.
The Mazda 6 takes a great deal of the promise shown by the intriguing CX-5 Crossover model - and builds on it. When the CX-5 was first presented, the underlying message seemed to be 'this is good, but wait until you see the MK3 Mazda 6 for the full expression of the KODO design philosophy'.
Well, it's here now and any design this bold that gets an almost universal thumbs-up is doing extremely well. True, the cabin could have been a little bolder in its execution, especially with so many of the latest smaller cars offering so much interior style and quality, but overall, it's hard to grumble about either the ambience or the amount of kit on offer.
The economy of the engines is eye-catching too, as is the amount of space in both saloon and estate models. Prices look reasonable as well. So, is this one set to be a winner? It certainly has all the key constituents. Mazda is on a roll right now and the form line doesn't look set to dip with this one.
Our verdict: 84/100.
The third generation Mazda 6 builds on the success of its predecessor with sharper styling, better attention to quality and some very economical engines. Factor in a lot of kit and accessible pricing and it looks a potential winner.